Jason Segel is one of those actors who has learned to capitalize on his flaws
For most of "The Five-Year Engagement" lead characters make a miserable team
Ungainly and uneven, the movie offers some compensation in the peripherals
Editor’s Note: Please be aware that this review may contain spoilers.
Emily Blunt may be the most vivacious and personable light comic actress in the movies right now. She has something of Carole Lombard’s instinct to take a tired scene and give it a good kick in the pants. And Jason Segel’s forlorn and directionless Tom in “The Five-Year Engagment” could use it, too.
Segel is the anti-matter to Blunt’s shooting star: doughy (well, he is playing a sous chef here), oversized and doleful, he’s one of those actors who has learned to capitalize on his flaws, exposing his inadequacies as often as possible to lugubrious comic effect.
We’ve all seen lopsided couples like this, but the central flaw in “The Five-Year Engagment” (which Segel also co-wrote with his regular collaborator, director Nicholas Stoller) is that despite their regular protestations of love, for most of the movie, Segel’s Tom and Blunt’s Violet make a miserable team. She’s selfish, he sacrifices his career, are you laughing yet?
We are given to understand that wedded bliss would make all the difference, but somehow they just can’t get their act together.
Tom proposes in the movie’s very first scene. There is an engagement party, everything is going swimmingly, but events overtake them. Violet’s sister (Alison Brie) gets pregnant by Tom’s best man (Chris Pratt, doing a big-screen tweak on his “Parks and Recreation” persona), so their nuptials take precedence. There are religious and geographical divisions to be ironed out – Tom’s family is Jewish, Violet’s Church of England. Then she’s offered a place at the University of Michigan, and while Tom renounces his promising culinary career in San Francisco to be with her, somehow the circumstances don’t seem so propitious for a wedding ceremony. She’s still happy, but he’s stuck in a rut and losing his grip.
Delay and deferment don’t seem like the ideal building blocks for comedy, especially when this couple already lives together. Are we expected to care that much if they tie the knot? Does their hesitation reflect misgivings about the institution, or doubts about the relationship itself?
The latter, naturally, but only because Tom is asked to play second fiddle to his more goal-oriented fiancée. In other words, to play what is traditionally the part of the supportive wife. What is a man to do when he’s no longer the principal breadwinner? Michigan is cold, and they hunt things there. Going native involves home-knitted sweaters, crossbows and lots of facial hair. Clearly, this is not going to work.
The movie occasionally throws up scenes or situations adults might recognize from their own attempts to reconcile romance and professional fulfillment, but no more than you might find in an average sitcom. This being a Judd Apatow production, that would be a sitcom afflicted with Tourette Syndrome and more male nudity than usual, but still essentially a sitcom nonetheless.
Ungainly and uneven, the movie offers some compensation in the peripherals (whoever cast Jacki Weaver, the terrifying matriarch from “Animal Kingdom” as Violet’s mum has a wicked sense of humor, and Rhys Ifans is lively as a charismatic psychology professor) but struggles to convey any sense of purpose in its story.
Rom-coms traditionally end in marriage, convenient shorthand for the fairytale happy ever after, and “The Five-Year Engagement” is no different; it just takes an awfully long time to get there.